Monday, June 2, 2014

An Obscure Ant-Man Story - Iron Man 44

Iron Man #44 (January 1972)
"Armageddon on Avenue 'A'" (Ant-Man back-up story)
Roy Thomas-Ross Andru/Mike Esposito

Doug: Hi, friends. It's another solo review from yours truly to greet you on a Monday. At the BAB, we've had several editorial meetings over the past few weeks, and we need to be up front in telling you that our partner reviews may be on an intermittent basis for the foreseeable future. Personal and professional considerations for both Karen and I are necessitating an evaluation of our present schedules. As most of you know, the partner reviews require a longer commitment of time than a solo review does, due mostly to the wait time involved in someone writing up the plot summary, tossing it to the partner for color commentary, and then back to the originator to clean some things up/make it sound more conversational/add the artwork. Rest assured that our partner reviews are not a thing of the past... but your getting a steady, consistent stream of our partner reviews may be. Of course we will keep you in the loop of any developments of which you need to be aware.

Doug: It was a Saturday evening, 24 May 2014 to be exact, when I became aware that this story even existed. I was laying in bed reading through Back Issue #71 when I came to a summary of the life of Marvel Feature. In that story, as the author (Dewey Cassell) detailed the Ant-Man strip replacing the Defenders after their 3-issue run, it was stated that Ant-Man was featured in a back-up tale in Iron Man #44. So, possessing the Iron Man dvd-rom I hurriedly (well, honestly 15 hours passed in the wake of this epiphany) brought that issue before my eyeballs and hey -- what do you know? There it was! So, since I reckon that many of our readers either a) are like me in this ignorance or b) are like me in that even if they did know they forgot, I figured we'd give it a look. I'm a first-timer on this, so you are getting the emotions raw, baby! Let's roll...

Doug: Ross Andru isn't the first guy I'd expect to draw Ant-Man, and I really have no idea why this story was created in the first place. I'm assuming it was one of those stock stories that Marvel kept handy. It's anyone's guess -- did George Tuska take ill and fault on his page count for the main Iron Man story? At any rate, we open with a splash page that sort of summarizes Ant-Man's career and to a note from Roy Thomas at the end basically telling us to ignore the page! So alrighty -- this 8-pager just became a 7-pager. Now that's weird. So on the real first page, we're introduced to a fella named Wilbur Grabowski. Wilbur seems to have been infected with whatever the Black Cat metes out -- a lifelong case of bad luck. Wilbur's a doofus. We see several panels of him, throughout his life, moving from one screw-up to another. But tonight, Wilbur's going to change his luck. Wilbur owns a candy store that's been failing. But, thinks Wilbur, with money from the insurance policy his life could turn. So, he ponders a little arson and...

Doug: Outside the candy store, riding a flying ant in the beam of a street lamp, is one Dr. Henry Pym. He's dressed as Ant-Man. To give you a little temporal compass, Neal Adams famously drew Ant-Man in Avengers #93 (cover dated November 1971); this story was sold only two months after. Coincidence? Roy Thomas was the author of both tales. Or was this, again, already in the can so to speak? I have no clue. Ant-Man seems to picking up some strange emotional waves through his cybernetic helmet. His "steed" apparently does, too, and begins to drop toward the candy store. At first I thought all this was coming from Wilbur, but upon entering the store -- and hearing Wilbur go on about how he's "going to do it, going to do it" -- the ant flies Pym down to the floorboards, and in between to the crawl space (my guess -- really no idea here). Pym now feels some really bad vibes, and immediately spies some big nasties. Can a brother get a can of Raid?? It's so bad, in fact, that he orders his steed back to the anthill.

Doug: As Hank ascertains the subterranean situation he can still hear Wilbur muttering to himself upstairs. But guessing that Wilbur is harmless, Hank allows himself to get caught by a cricket. He calls it the oldest trick in the superhero handbook -- "take me to your leader", so to speak. But when the cricket begins to spirit Hank toward a light, our hero suddenly becomes quite alarmed at the bug he sees ahead. *Editorial interlude: I am having a really hard time taking this story seriously. Not a reader of very many Silver Age Ant-Man/Giant-Man books, but this seems in that vein.* It turns out that Ant-Man's foe is an old nemesis, dating all the way back to Tales to Astonish #39! We're in the presence of the Scarlet Beetle. I can feel you trembling as you read this. Apparently the Scarlet Beetle wasn't just any old beetle -- nope, this dude had radiation-based powers (it was the 1960s, after all). But the Scarlet Beetle assures Pym that his powers are back. Indeed, the beam that drew Pym to this spot is the same transmission that will draw insects to him. We get a scene reminiscent of Hitchcock's The Birds.

Doug: The S.B. tells Pym that insects will eradicate humans from the planet and again dominate the world. And then to hammer his point home, S.B. grabs Pym's belt away from him -- he says that a man's dominator ought to be larger than life. Pym says go ahead, dude; the gas had been perfected to only work on Pym. S.B. says no big deal -- he really wanted the cybernetic helmet anyway. Now Hank started to get nervous. But suddenly, he smelled something -- yup, Wilbur was about to do the dirty deed upstairs! With chaos reigning beneath the floor, Pym strikes the Scarlet Beetle across the mandible. S.B. flips onto his back and Pym makes a break for it. He thinks to himself as he races for the main floor that the S.B. is super-dangerous and humanity is at risk. Not buyin' it, but anyway... Roy has some uncomfortable dialogue for some African-Americans in the proximity of the fire, but maybe it was just a sign o' the times.

Doug: As Hank had paused to survey the growing fire, the Scarlet Beetle caught up to him and grabbed him. But Hank, still possessing his full-grown strength easily flipped S.B. back onto his topside again. And wouldn't you know it -- right in the path of Wilbur's dropped kerosene can. S.B. was crushed, killed -- because one of Hank's ants had crawled up Wilbur's leg and irritated him. And wouldn't you know, ol' Wilbur's luck didn't change after all. As he went to run out of the burning candy store he was met by the police and firemen. Bad luck again. But as Hank mused to himself, maybe that guy had saved the world!

Doug: This was a decent-enough story; it certainly was a heritage sort of tale in that it looked back to Marvel's monster days and the dawn of the Marvel Age. The art team of Andru/Esposito was steady, but I have to declare that I didn't always get that "Ross Andru Amazing Spider-Man" vibe from his work here. Occasionally I could see in a face the Andru tendencies, but the figurework didn't to me evoke his Spidey work. As has been well-documented around here, I'm a big Hank Pym fan. So although this was a quirky story, it was nice to see Hank star in a strip where he was actually the hero, and with no clay feet. How about that?


Edo Bosnar said...

I kind of like the art, but then I've always been fond of Andru & Esposito.
Yes, this seems like a really odd story - and virtually hilarious, with that mean talking beetle.
What I just can't get over is that panel on the first page: basically, Roy's saying "Ross and Mike put a lot of effort into this nice collage of Ant Man images, but who care? Turn the page!"

Anonymous said...

In prepping for today's post, I scurried over to Groovy's to see if he had this story. Read it and his comments, then jumped to Mike's Amazing World to see what was happening at Marvel during this time. What I learned was this issue came directly after Marvel's attempt at the 52 page 25 cent comic. Issue 42 had been a 32 page 15 cent issue and now you had a return to the 32 pages, but now 25 cents for your reading pleasure.

I agree how this was not only a return of an old, dare we say, classic Ant-Man foe but almost an homage to the old monster stories that was Marvel in the early 60s. Funny how the years have made that nostalgia for many of the creators while Mr Lee himself may have been saying: We were just trying to put food on the table!

Another good look into the cracks of our childhood. I think if this was radio, we would label this a closet classic?

The Prowler (a whole post and only one !)

Anonymous said...

Sorry, my bad typing again, "now 25 cents" should read "now 20 cents"

The Prowler (dagnabbit).

Anonymous said...

I love the man in the hat saying "No! It's the end of the world!" - that's a perfectly normal reaction when a swarm of flying insects turns up ! Thanks for the link to Back Issue - I've not seen this magazine before, that was a nice cover picture of Dr. Strange and Clea (I've never known how to pronounce her name - to rhyme with tea or perhaps like Clee-a.)

Edo Bosnar said...

Colin, as a kid, I pronounced it Clee-a, and apparently I was right, at least according to that late '70s made-for-TV Dr. Strange movie.

J.A. Morris said...

Thanks for sharing this,Doug. I don't mind characters like Scarlett Beetle, since I grew up watching movies like 'Them' and 'The Deadly Mantis'.

But I've never found Hank Pym interesting enough to carry a solo story. I enjoy him and Jan in Avengers stories during the Bronze (and late Silver) Age, but that's about it.

david_b said...

An obscure tale indeed.

First off the IM cover.. It seemed to me that, for whatever reason, most IM covers during these couple of years were plagued with very 'underwhelming villains'. I found it a joke for the title to start with 'The INVINCIBLE..', then to have some clown in a lame suit getting the edge on ol' Tony Stark.

As for the story, luckily Andru had Vince Colletta do the inks on his Shanna stint, softening the features quite positively. I know the Andru/Esposito team were doing a lot of work at DC doing Worlds Finest in the late '60s with those Murphy Anderson covers just before this; I picked up a few without knowing Andru did the interiors and it was very similar obviously to this tale. IMHO, I never thought Esposito was a good inker for Andru. I didn't think much of their stint on ASM (especially after my first few ASM issues being with Romita in 1973, and the Marvel Tales reprinting at the time....), but it was alright. Their depiction of chins and eye's always bugged me.

All in all, will have to add this to the list to pickup, I'm sure it'll wind up in some Ant-Man Masterworks someday soon.

Dr. Oyola said...

I kind of like stories like this one, though I will admit a certain fondness for the character of Ant-man (regardless of who it might be).

I like the idea of a beetle-sized beetle villain with powers (why should humans be the only ones with wacky irradiated powers?).

I agree w/ The Prowler that this is kind of a throwback to the monster stories of the Silver Age.

But oooh yeah, the "jive talk" is terrible. It is a sign of the time alright - but as the recent "thugged out" New 52 version of Mr. Terrific shows us (you might want to avoid the comments if you click that link), comics still have a long way to go in allowing for a diverse representation of black people.

Karen said...

Geez, DC is just determined to crap all over its characters. I really liked Mr. Terrific. Another reason to stay away from the new 52...

Fred W. Hill said...

I read about this story just a few days ago in another blog discussing Marvel's brief foray into transforming most of its titles from regular size 15 centers into "king-size" 25 centers before changing to regular size 20 centers. During the same period there was a blurb in the Bullpen Bulletins that Iron Man & Daredevil would be combined into one mag. That never happened, but apparently a shorter than usual Iron Man story was produced on the assumption that it would and maybe Roy came up with this short Ant Man yarn to fill in the gap. Hmm, and wasn't Andru drawing the Defenders over in Marvel Feature, although I believe Herb Trimpe did the art on the Ant Man series that came next.
Funny that after having changed Hank Pym into Yellowjacket, Roy was now pumping out Ant Man stories as either writer in this and the Avengers stories, or as editor with the M.F. run, after which Pym wouldn't return in that guise until Shooter's first run in the Avengers, in which a disturbed Ant Man and his ant buddies takes on his teammates and do a pretty good job of it.

david_b said...

Ah, VERY NICE masthead.

I always enjoyed Big John's work on now-classic FF tales emmensely.


Comicsfan said...

Doug. Dude. Joint reviews or solo, they're well worth waiting for. :)

Doug said...

Thanks, Comicsfan! You're not so bad yourself! ;)


Ace Hamilton said...

Have you read the main story in this issue recently? Robert Kanigher's script is bizarre, written in a florid, overripe style that makes Stan Lee seem like Ernest Hemingway.

Sample dialogue:

Marianne: Iron Man's eerie metal sheath fllls me with nameless dread. My heart weeps for him but my eyes are dry. Can I love and hate him at the same time?
Kevin: Look to the moon for your answer, Marianne.
Marianne: I'll find no answer in the inconstant moon.

But then you also get this:

Iron Man: You've licked your chops at everything I've served you! Now gulp down these sizzling pizzas from Pompeii! Swallow this red-hot double scoop from Hell!

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